After Orlando’s 114-106 win on Friday versus the Pacers, Frank Vogel had high praise for the reserve players that rescued the Magic in the second quarter.
“They were great. They changed the game completely around. Obviously, if you score 44 points in the second quarter, holding the other team to 23, that was probably the deciding run.”
Indeed, this was the second time in as many games that the bench unit has reversed Orlando’s fortunes after disastrous starts in the first quarters. On Wednesday against the Spurs, the Magic generated nearly no scoring beyond what Evan Fournier was able to supply, going down by 9 early in the second before the group of D.J. Augustin, C.J. Wilcox, Mario Hezonja, Jeff Green, and Bismack Biyombo turned that deficit into a 10-point advantage. It took them just half the quarter to make that happen.
On Friday, the starters once again found themselves in a hole, going down 30-19 after a quarter. This time, it was Green, Biyombo, and Wilcox, this time with C.J. Watson and Damjan Rudez, who led the charge back into the game. Again, it took just 6 minutes to turn the score on its head.
The transition from the play of the starters to the bench has been stunning, at least in the last two contests. The Magic’s first quarters have been marked by mistakes, poor spacing, indecision, and the inability to make creative plays. In the second, the team transforms into a passing and shooting machine that takes advantage of transition opportunities every time they get a turnover or a quick outlet. Against the Pacers, they made 14-16 shots during one stretch.
Green in particular has been exactly the dependable and versatile scorer the Magic need, For the third night in a row, Green has scored efficiently and from all over the court, including behind the arc and at the free throw line. Perhaps more surprising, Green’s defense has been solid as well, a fact not lost on his teammates. Ibaka and Rudez separately mentioned his defense without being asked about it, with Ibaka saying, “Especially on defense, with him, we are more comfortable to switch one, two, three, four, five. You don’t really see that a lot.”
Rudez was the star of the reserves on Friday, using his shooting and passing to energize the offense. After the game, he said, “I think passing is very good and contagious. I’m trying to just have good decision making on the court.”
Rudez made his first 8 shots of the preseason, many of them from behind the arc. Combined with his ability to read the floor and find cutters, he brought life to an offensive attack that looked stagnant in the first quarter. Wilcox has been an excellent floor spacer, and has surprisingly quick hands on defense, lunging to grab balls out of the air that most would have let fly by. Watson has been a steady presence, making few mistakes and keeping the ball moving. Somehow, it just clicks together.
This isn’t to say the starters have been awful every time they’ve been on the court. They redeemed themselves somewhat by closing out the game against Indiana’s starters late in the fourth, showing more aggression and finding better looks, especially for Nikola Vucevic.
Still, while it comes with the caveat-est of caveats—it’s just two games, and in the preseason—it looks like the bench may have some special chemistry. It’s definitely worth paying attention to going forward if the fireworks are anything like they have been lately.